Cowboys and cowgirls have a history of taking care of their own and the generosity that allows them to do that never ceases to amaze me.
The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund was established in 1991 to help injured rodeo contestants pay their bills if they were injured and couldn’t compete. Since that time, over 7.8 million dollars has been paid to 1150 contestants.
One of the biggest fund raisers of the year happens during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. A group of enterprising women started having a luncheon for the women of rodeo to get to know each other when the NFR was held in Oklahoma City. That has grown to become the Pro Rodeo League of Women and they now put together a lunch, style show, auction and raffle to benefit the Crisis Fund.
Hosted by Michael and Paula Gaughan at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, it has become a tradition on the last Thursday of the NFR for many years. In fact, event organizers, Tracy Hedeman and Stacey Custer have been volunteering and coordinating the festivities for over 25 years.
Over 1,000 people are now attending and the Gaughans donate the meals and facilities for all. They have hosted it for the past 29 years. A center stage is turned into an auction block, cat walk and presentation area. Exhibitors from the various gift shows around town donate items for raffles. Contestant’s wives model as well as a few of the contestants themselves.
The latest in fashion clothing from Wrangler and Panhandle was on the catwalk with the models doing their best runway walk. Sharon Camarillo, Pam Minick and Jennifer Smith were emcees with NFR barrel man John Harrison helping with the prizes. John’s wife Carla along with Pecos Tatum served as auctioneers.
When it was all said and done, they raised $85,000 on Thursday afternoon to add to the $1.5 million that has been given in the past. World champion bull riders Sage Kimzey and Shane Proctor both donated auction items.
Equibrand and Martin Saddlery have donated a Sherry Cervi saddle for the past several years that is raffled off. This year, the winner of the saddle gave it to Paul Gaughan who promptly gave it back to the organizers where it was auctioned off again. They had sold $5,000 worth of raffle tickets. Then the saddle sold for an additional $4,550 to Carol Lewis who happens to be the wife of a doctor that volunteers with the Justin Sportsmedicine Team at the NFR. That one saddle will help pay a mortgage and expenses for several months for an injured rodeo contestant.
“The help that the crisis fund provides is unexplainable,” said bareback rider Casey Colletti. “If it wasn’t for them, I possibly would have had to file bankruptcy. They helped me when I had knee surgery after and again when I injured my neck. I don’t know what would have happened without them.”
The slogan of the fund is “A hand up, not a hand out.” Contestants don’t consider it charity, rather it is a way for them to keep their bills paid, rehab and get back to the arena. The crisis fund is a non-profit. Justin Boots underwrites all of the administrative costs and it is coordinated with the PRCA. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from events like the ladies’ luncheon is used to help contestants.
Prior to this year’s NFR, bareback rider Tanner Aus had a t-shirt fundraiser and matched money out of his own pocket to give a $3,000 check to the fund. Another example of rodeo contestants taking care of their own.
Sterling and Jacobs Crawley along with entertainer Dale Brisby were the highlight of the style show with their own “Risky Business” rendition. NFR barrel racers Pamela Capper, Ivy Conrado, Stevi Hillman, Amberleigh Moore and Kimmie Wall, all took time out of their busy schedules to rehearse and then model at the style show.
It is a community effort headed up by two women who are dedicated to the cause. And with a little wine drinking and money spending it is always a fun and entertaining time.
“I can’t say enough about everyone who contributes to this event,” said Cindy Schonholtz, CEO of the fund. “Every year, this just gets better. We raise more money and are able to help more people. It’s amazing.”
Now, everyone is hoping that the Justin Sportsmedicine Team can keep the rodeo athletes healthy through the rest of the NFR so that they won’t need that “Hand Up.”